This is not a “battlefield”, declared Supreme Court Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali on Wednesday morning, the second day of the Karachi violence hearings.
The media coverage of the court’s hearings, said Justice Jamali, had left that impression and it was wrong - the court did not intend to put down any elected representative or police official.
While it may not have been a battlefield, the proceedings were mired in a back-and-forth over reports and data with the odd retort thrown in.
The courtroom was packed with grizzly lawyers, government officials clutching reports, a crop of fresh-faced advocates, and law enforcement officials of all rank, from the heads of the Sindh police and Rangers to investigating officers. On the bench were the five justices who repeatedly noted how the 2011 judgment looking into the violence in Karachi had not been implemented at all.
But the real issue in the courtroom is one of cynicism versus idealism.
No government official has ever claimed to be able to solve the multi-headed monster of problems in Karachi, but the judiciary wonders why the government just hasn’t acted. And while no one in Karachi bats an eyelid over a dozen or so people killed, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain said it was literally impossible to digest the news. “When one reads the newspaper in the morning it is difficult to swallow tea without thinking of the poor people killed and how their families are surviving,” he said. The bench brought up the fact that 14 people had been killed in Karachi just the day before. Sindh IG Police Fayyaz Leghari turned to the person next to him and whispered, “Fourteen?”
A slew of explanations ensued. One officer offered motive, the advocate general brought up criminals escaping across the border with Balochistan, while Sindh Additional Home Secretary Waseem Ahmed tried to compare crime statistics from Karachi and Lahore. “The daily average is 8.5 in both cities,” he declared. (How one kills 0.5 people is a question for another day). But then, Justice Hussain remarked, “You’re talking as if this were a T20 [cricket] match and you were tallying the scores.”
The day wore on as a number of issues came up - no-go areas, the Rangers role and how it arrests people, the performance of the courts, the unofficial moratorium of sorts on the death penalty. Officers gave explanations of all colour and stripe (“But we haven’t made maps!” and, “We can’t act if we haven’t received a complaint”).
One cop took to snoozing in the back benches by the time the court ended proceedings for the day. The head of NADRA left with a lackey in tow who whispered his boss’s name to reporters.
The justices, for their part, made their opinion of the government quite clear. “Such laws are made which give bad people protection,” said Justice Hussain. Justice Amir Hani Muslim made it clear that they were “least interested in political gain”. Justice Jamali noted that, “When other institutions have failed, we have to take action also.”
The day wasn’t all gloom and doom, though. One judge praised Waseem Ahmed, saying he had served for 60 years, only to have another judge cut in: “Let’s not make him that old!” And there was a bit of drama when a police officer burst in with, “I would like to inform the court of the real facts behind the police’s performance!” Cold water was poured over his enthusiasm when he was told to submit his comments in writing. IG Fayyaz Leghari looked in askance - who was this officer?
The man of the minute, however, was SI Ali Hyder from the Aziz Bhatti police, who told reporters that he wanted to explain how the police was an “orphaned institution”. “Instead of blaming the IG, which is demoralising the police, the court should look at the problems in the lower ranks,” Hyder said.
He had the last word on the proceedings, probably summing up the issue in Karachi better than most analysts. “The IG just doesn’t have the powers. Why should he be shamed in court?” As the government officials sped away from court on Wednesday, they were probably thinking the same thing.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2012.
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